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Google has announced their new Page Speed Service. In essence, it’s a combination of proxy servers, Content Delivery Networks (CDN), and web page optimizers which Google states will produce speed gains of 25-60% for most websites.

The service is being offered to a limited set of web developers at no cost. After the trial period, Page Speed will be released to everyone and, although there are no details, “pricing will be competitive” (source: Official Google Code blog).

To use the service, it’s simply a matter of registering and adding a new DNS CNAME record to your domain. As well as providing a gzipped proxy server for static files, the service can also rewrite your pages for web performance best-practices:

  • CSS files can be combined, minimized, and moved to the HTML head
  • JavaScript files can be combined and minimized using Google’s Closure Compiler
  • images can scaled and optimized

All features are optional so you can, for example, disable the Closure Compiler if it breaks your JavaScript code.

Google provides a page test comparison service at www.webpagetest.org/compare. It estimated that SitePoint.com’s home page would enjoy a 13% speed increase — I suspect that’s primarily owing to JavaScript file concatenation.

Tremendous or Troublesome?

Depending on the price, the Page Speed Service could be ideal for inefficient static pages running on slow servers. It may be more cost-effective than spending money on further development or hosting.

Unfortunately, there are a few downsides:

  • Bare domains are not supported, i.e. you must use www.domain.com rather than domain.com. That’s a shame — I’ve been dropping the “www” from my sites.
  • HTTPS pages are not supported.
  • Flash, streamed audio, streamed video and files over 50MB are not supported.
  • POST requests greater than 2MB are not supported.
  • You’re unlikely to experience significant speed gains on web applications running server-side code.
  • Domains hosted on Blogger, Google Sites or Google App Engine are not supported.

Speaking as a web developer, the service makes me slightly uncomfortable. Like many, I ensure my sites are optimized by combining files, minimizing the code, reducing HTTP requests and using CDNs where possible. For Page Speed to be attractive, I wouldn’t want to lose control, configuration would have to be easy, I wouldn’t want my code to be rewritten, and the price would have to be cheaper than upgraded hosting.

Risk is another factor which needs to be assessed. Will Page Speed offer additional redundancy or two points of failure? I suspect it will depend on the quantity of static vs generated content on your website.

Finally, are you willing to hand your website keys to Google? Their services are more reliable than most, but this is a new product which could experience teething problems. Conspiracy theorists will also see this as another step toward Google’s global domination. Google Search considers page speed factors so could the company become an all-powerful web host which undermines sites not using their network?

Technically, Google Page Speed an amazing solution which should boost the download speeds for most sites — especially those which are inefficiently coded. However, I’m not convinced many good web developers will adopt it. And would bad developers understand the service or care enough to recommend it?

Time will tell if Google’s Page Speed Service is a success. Please let us know your opinions…

What a difference a millisecond can make. When it comes to browsing the web, every tiny moment counts — and the fewer moments that pass between a mouse click and a fully loaded page, the better.

Speed is a bit of an obsession for most web users. We fret over our Internet connections’ and mobile connections’ perceived slowness, and we go bananas for a faster web browser.

Given this better-faster mentality, the consequences for slow-loading pages can be dire for site owners; most users are willing to navigate away after waiting just three seconds, for example. And quite a few of these dissatisfied users will tell others about the experience.

What’s more, our entire perception of how fast or slow a page loads is a bit skewed. While we’re waiting for a site to materialize in a browser tab, pages seem to load about 15% slower than they actually do load. The perception gap increases to 35% once we’re away from a computer.

But for the precious milliseconds site owners can shave off page load times, they can see huge returns. For example, Amazon.com increased its revenue by 1% for every 100 milliseconds of load time improvement. And Aol said its users in the top 10% of site speed viewed around 50% more pages than visitors in the bottom 10%.

Site optimization firm Strangeloop has provided us with a slew of graphically organized stats on just how long pages take to load, why they take as long as they do, and just how long the average Joe or Jane is willing to wait around for your site.

Check out the infographic below (click to see it at full size), and in the comments, let us know about your experiences with site speed.

And site owners, if you’re worried about speed, do a quick pulse-check with Google’s free and easy page speed tool, Page Speed Online.

Image courtesy of Flickr, edmundyeo.

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